take a tour of the new rapidway on highway 7

September 15th, 2014

video: Highway 7 East rapidway - Now Open - 2014

This morning, The Honourable Steven Del Duca, Ontario Minister of Transportation, announced the opening of the section of rapidway from Highway 404 to South Town Centre on Highway 7 East. He was joined by: The Honourable Michael Chan, MPP, Markham; Bill Fisch, Chairman and CEO, The Regional Municipality of York; Bruce McCuaig, President and CEO of Metrolinx; Frank Scarpitti, Mayor of the City of Markham.

Travelling along Highway 7, it’s hard to miss the beautiful and functional vivastations in the centre median. These stations are making a huge contribution to the transformation of our community in Richmond Hill and Markham, so let us take you on the same guided tour as our dignitaries took this morning for an inside look at the benefits and attributes of these stations.

The first thing you’ll notice as you cross to a station is how big and airy the canopy is at 28m [92’] long and 5m [16’] high. The curved glass above the platform provides both weather protection and a sense of space at the same time and satisfies long-term needs as platforms accommodate two Viva vehicles at once and in future will be able to accommodate Light Rail Transit [LRT]. The platform is approached by a gently sloped ramp with handrails on both sides, making it fully accessible to all, whether they’re walking, pushing a stroller, or in a wheelchair or scooter. Passing by the familiar Viva fin and planter boxes with greenery, you’ll next come to an illuminated wall map of the YRT\Viva system.

Next on the tour is a bank of fare equipment, including a Ticket Vending Machine [TVM], a Ticket Validator [TV], and two PRESTO machines. Once you’ve paid your fare, you’ll move to the Fare Paid Zone [FPZ], which is clearly shown by being paved with a different coloured tile on the ground, as well as by a curved sign above. This area needs to show as distinct, because YRT fare rules require passengers to have paid their fare before moving into the FPZ.

Once you’ve paid your fare, you’re free to make yourself comfortable on the platform until the next bus arrives. We’re making it easy for you to know how long you’ve got to wait, with a large Variable Message Sign [VMS] projected from the canopy. The VMS scrolls through the upcoming Viva arrivals, telling you exactly when the next bus will arrive. Because the VMS system is connected to the GPS technology in our Viva vehicles as well as to the central transit scheduling software, it’s constantly updated to provide accurate and real-time information.

If you decide to sit on a bench or get comfy out of the elements, the shelters have been designed with passenger comfort as a priority. The heated glass enclosure is well lit, and accessed by two push-button automatic doors. The heaters – which will be appreciated later this year – automatically turn on if someone enters the enclosure, and if the temperature in the enclosure feels lower than 10 degrees Celsius. Recycling and garbage disposal units on the platforms make it easy to keep these lovely stations clean.

The entire platform will be well lit, with lighting inside the canopy as well as on the platform.  And to enhance your feelings of comfort and security, the back of the platform is protected from Highway 7 traffic by a barrier wall topped with a guardrail, and there are multiple security features including cameras and an emergency call button.

Last but not least, to help you stay oriented, wayfinding signage will show you where the buses will stop, and other features including the way to the crosswalk.

It’s hard to do the stations, and the rapidway justice with written descriptions, so here’s a video showing you some of the action involved in completing this section of the rapidway. One of the regular passengers tweeted that “it has cut my travel time in half, way to go!”

 

this is just the beginning

September 10th, 2014

this is just the beginning

Over the next three years, the vivaNext system is really going to transform the look and feel of York Region’s Centres and Corridors, with new rapidways opening for service. And these new transit options are only the beginning of an expanding vivaNext network that’s being built for York Region commuters.

Here’s the rundown on what’s planned, and how your transit choices are going to be widened over the next few years as vivaNext continues to expand.

Rapidway projects are being built in the order that will create the most connectivity for the greatest number of people and get you past the worst traffic congestion. Check out the map to see how the phases are rolling out, and follow our colour-coding of projects:

The segments on Highway 7 East that are coloured green or orange are either in service or about to be. Construction is well underway along the yellow and purple segments on Davis Drive in Newmarket, and Highway 7 West in Vaughan. Davis Drive is scheduled to be in service by the end of 2015, and only a year later, Vaughan will have its first rapidway to meet up with the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension.

The design-build contract has been awarded for the pink segments on Yonge Street and designs are being finalized as crews begin preliminary work. In Newmarket, work requiring Yonge Street lane closures has been postponed until next year.

But that’s not all – look at the blue segments on the map. These segments are also all designed and funding is committed, with planning well underway for construction to start in 2015. The projects marked in blue include two rapidway segments on Highway 7 West, which will extend on either side of the VMC rapidway. When it’s complete in 2018 this whole section will run over 15 km from Pine Valley to Yonge Street. Another blue segment will extend the Highway 7 East rapidway in Markham from the existing Warden Station on Enterprise Boulevard, to Unionville GO Station.

Other projects that will eventually create a full network across the Region and connecting to other transit systems are grey on the map. Since we don’t have funding secured for all of them yet, we can’t confirm the actual timing.

Of these unfunded segments, two are the top priority. The first priority is the Yonge North Subway Extension, which will provide a critical link for passengers transferring between the vivaNext system and the TTC. Without this connection, vivaNext is missing a critical link that will really make our system a key part of the larger Greater Toronto transit network.

Another future route proposed is a rapidway along Major Mackenzie Drive, which would provide a major transit artery for all the growth taking place in that area. The Major Mackenzie rapidway would provide passengers with connections to the TYSSE, GO lines in both the east and west, and the Viva Highway 7 rapidway in both the east and west.

Imagine how this wonderful rapid transit network would make your life easier? We are working hard to bring it to life, so that everyone in York Region will have the choice to leave their car at home and hop on board Viva for a fast, reliable and comfortable ride, no matter where they want to go.

colour coding the rapidway

September 5th, 2014

colour coding the rapidway

As we’ve posted previously, Bus Rapid Transit [BRT] is an increasingly popular rapid transit technology around the world. One of the ways to make BRT truly rapid, as we’re doing here in York Region, is to provide vehicles with separate lanes so they can move easily through congested areas. And one way to make those lanes distinct without having an actual grade separation is to make them a different colour. This is why the vivaNext rapidways are bright red.

Colouring asphalt anything other than basic black isn’t as easy as you might think. Here’s what we’ve done to get our rapidways red.

Painting asphalt isn’t an option [if only it was this easy]. Although it’s something we all take for granted, creating a long-lasting, durable asphalt mix for the conditions along a busy roadway like Highway 7 is actually a highly specialized science. The surface on roadways that carry a lot of heavy traffic, especially traffic that is constantly turning and braking or accelerating at intersections, needs to be exceptionally strong to prevent cracking, rutting and shifting. Canadian climate conditions, including extreme temperature changes, hot sun, frost, and salting over the winter, all impose significant challenges. Creating an asphalt mix to take these conditions without requiring frequent maintenance is something that specialized pavement designers work hard to achieve, with the technology constantly evolving.

So adding in the requirement to make it a distinct colour definitely adds to the complexity.

Using red pavers or bricks would not provide a sufficiently durable driving surface long term, and would be extremely costly to install and maintain.  One approach that is used when the colour is needed in very limited areas, such as crosswalks or bike lanes, is a material called “street print.” But this material, which is actually a special top layer that’s heated right into the asphalt once it has been imprinted with a brick or paver pattern, would be too complicated to use along the full length of the rapidways [although we are using it for our crosswalks], and again would not be durable enough.

So the best approach is to tint the black asphalt, which we’re accomplishing in a couple of ways. Asphalt is composed of a mixture of sand, stones and asphalt cement binding it together. By adding reddish stones rather than grey ones, we can give an underlying red tint to the asphalt, especially as it wears.

The more complex adjustment is to add a special red pigment. The challenge with the pigment is to be careful in how much we add:  too little and the colour doesn’t come through, but too much and the overall durability of the asphalt could be compromised. The pavement design team has worked long and hard through a highly technical process to get the balance just right.

We’re delighted with their final results, which gives us what we need: a clearly defined rapidway that stands out from the regular traffic lanes, with a long-lasting and durable surface, at an affordable price. Drivers need to remember as they make turns from side streets along Highway 7 to follow the white skip lines and not turn onto those red rapidways!  Although beautiful, they are red for safety too!

 

welcoming all cyclists

September 3rd, 2014

welcoming all cyclists

We’ve been focusing recently on all the features of the new rapidways as we wind up construction on Highway 7 to Town Centre Boulevard – a project that will make transit truly rapid along Highway 7 East. Many of the design features were developed to ensure that all users of the Highway 7 East corridor feel welcome and secure as they enjoy the new rapidways.  Cyclists make up a large percentage of commuters so ensuring their safety, as well as the safety of other motorists and pedestrians, is important in creating convenient and cohesive roads. Biking is a healthy, environmentally friendly way to get around, and the vivaNext corridors are helping to facilitate this. Viva vehicles now have bike racks on the front for easy loading as you travel around York Region.

The new bike lanes will extend 5 kilometres, from Chalmers to South Town Centre Boulevard with lanes on both the north and south sides of Highway 7. Unlike in many urban settings, York Region cyclists will have these lanes to themselves. Our new bike lanes are “dedicated,” meaning they’re not shared at any point with other vehicles.

We’re following the established safety standards, making the bike lanes 1.4 metres wide, with an additional half metre for a buffer zone between the bike and traffic lanes. Also, to give maximum visibility for the bike lanes they’ll be painted a high-contrast green in areas around intersections, with special bike lane markings to clearly identify them mid-block.

With the high volume of traffic, bike lanes will provide a much more comfortable and secure environment for cyclists riding along Highway 7. Eventually cyclists will want to turn right or left from Highway 7. Waiting in the left turn lane with vehicles to cross multiple lanes of traffic and the rapidway wouldn’t be safe on a bike, so we’re adding another feature to make the experience better for cyclists. They’re called bike boxes, and they’ll make the corridor more welcoming to cyclists.

Here’s how they work. Cyclists turning left from Highway 7 will proceed through the signalized east/west intersection in the bike lane into the far side  then stop in a protected area, reserved for cyclists, tucked into the boulevard on the far side of the intersection. This area, known as a “bike box,” will offer cyclists a waiting zone while they wait for the light to change. Once the light changes, they will then cross Highway 7 along with other north/south traffic. For a demonstration, see York Region’s video about bike boxes.

The bike boxes will be clearly marked with green paint like the bike lanes and other markings, so drivers and pedestrians will know they are for cyclists only. Permanent bike boxes will be put in place this fall and replace the painted ones on the street, so by next spring cyclist will have a great new pathway to follow, with the latest of features

We’re excited to be providing these new features for York Region cyclists, and know that they’re going to help make this corridor much more welcoming to all travellers, no matter how they choose to get around.

 

crossing in safety

September 2nd, 2014

crossing in safety

Welcome back students! Can you believe summer is over? As the children flood back to the streets and sidewalks it is important for everyone to keep safety in mind, whether you are walking, driving or taking transit.

Making the new rapidways more welcoming to pedestrians continues to be a top priority, and that includes ensuring that pedestrians feel safe and secure while crossing Highway 7 and in the future on Davis Drive. We know from your feedback that you’re already enjoying the protected waiting areas built into the medians, and you’ve become familiar with the two-stage crossing at crosswalks that’s been in place for much of the construction period. But in case you don’t know how it works, here’s a reminder of how to cross the rapidway safely to get to the new vivastations.

With its new wider overall alignment to incorporate the two rapidway lanes and median stations, the crosswalks across Highway 7 East are longer than they used to be. To enhance the safety of pedestrians, a two-stage crossing is recommended. Lights are timed to give enough time for the average pedestrian to cross to or from a median vivastation. For people going all the way across the road, the light will allow them to cross to the protected median and wait for the next pedestrian signal. Remember, if you want to take the local YRT bus, you still catch those curb side, because they stop more frequently than Viva.

In addition to watching the lights, once the system is fully operational, pedestrians will hear an audible signal indicating whether they should “walk” or “wait,” and for people with visual impairments, the signals are equipped with a locator sound that direct people to the push button. The locator signal has a detection system that enables it to automatically adjust its volume depending on the ambient sound levels, so it’s always audible.

Remember that the pedestrian signal is only activated once the button is pushed; it will not automatically be activated as part of the through-traffic phase. Pedestrians cannot proceed to cross until they get the visual and audible signals that it’s safe to go. It’s important that pedestrians check for left turning cars before stepping out onto the roadway.

Crosswalks are wider than usual to provide more space for pedestrians, and clearly marked in white.

With new residential and employment development all along the corridor, and more and more people using the new rapid transit system, Highway 7 East is seeing an increasing number of pedestrians. As they are only one of the priority user groups of the Highway 7 corridor, pedestrians need to be aware of their busy surroundings and stay safe while they enjoy all the new amenities. Whether you live, work or play in the area, we hope you check it out soon!

making our stations accessible for everyone

August 29th, 2014

making our stations accessible for everyone

The vivaNext commitment is to ensure everyone feels equally welcome on vivastation platforms and is able to board the Viva vehicles, whether they have mobility or other physical limitations, or are pushing a baby stroller, or for any other reasons feel uncomfortable accessing transit service. Over this holiday long weekend, we hope you get out and about using transit and take advantage of the system.

In addition to meeting all the accessibility requirements set out in Provincial and local regulatory frameworks, we’ve gone to great lengths to design the new platforms so all users have a comfortable and pleasant customer experience – and we obtained advice and input from the CNIB and York Region’s Accessibility Committee during the design process.

Here’s what we’ve built into the new stations to ensure all users feel safe and comfortable:

    • The pedestrian ramps to the platform have a shallow incline and handrails on either side, and there are no changes of grade or tripping hazards anywhere on the platform.   For people with impaired vision, the platform edge is clearly indicated through the use of domed tactile tiles in a contrasting colour. At the primary bus stop location there are directional tiles which provide directional grooves going toward the bus, which will be helpful for people using canes for guidance.
    • People using wheelchairs will have no difficulties getting in and out of the heated enclosures, which provide wheelchair-turning radius inside, and have doors at either end to simplify access. And the enclosures have barrier-free doors which have been designed to meet the highest accessibility standards including their button placement and operations such as door opening speed and how the door responds if it contacts an object. Even in construction zones, we try to maintain one accessible sidewalk at all times.
    • We’ve included benches inside the enclosure and outside, complete with grab bars for people who appreciate a little help getting up and down. And for anyone who dreads the chilly experience of sitting on a metal bench in a Canadian winter, we’ve planned for that too. The benches are constructed from durable Brazilian Ipe wood that will make sitting a little warmer in the cold weather; which is right around the corner!
    • The electronic ITS elements are all designed to ensure using the equipment is equally successful for all our customers. All the fare equipment is designed to be functional for people at wheelchair height or with other physical limitations, with angled screens, clear, bright graphics and large push-buttons. The VMS will provide clearly visible information about buses, routes and the time. We extensively researched and analyzed our PA system to make sure it’s clearly audible, and provides full coverage along the platform and in the enclosures. The notice holders for system updates are posted at the right height so they’re easily read whether you’re walking or in a wheelchair. And we’ve installed large map cases at each platform, illuminated to make it easy for everyone to navigate their route.

    Overall, our objective has been to provide a comfortable, safe and welcoming experience for all our transit riders with no barriers or restrictions. With back to school on everyone’s minds, safety and accessibility make a world of difference. Enjoy your holiday weekend!

     

    making your trip more comfortable across the YRT\Viva system

    August 27th, 2014

    making your trip more comfortable across the YRT\Viva system

    Many transit riders across York Region are YRT riders as well as Viva riders, and even though we’re building rapidways for Viva, YRT comfort is just as important.

    YRT is currently carrying out upgrades to all their curbside stops across the YRT system to add new amenities and freshen up existing ones. If you’ve been to the YRT stop at 16th Avenue and Warden you’ll already have seen the prototype that’s going to be installed everywhere.

    Each YRT stop will get a modern new shelter, which will provide superior protection from the elements. And for more comfort, each station will have new benches and garbage containers. More and more people are choosing to commute by bike but if biking part-way and then jumping on YRT\Viva suits you better, YRT is installing bike racks at each stop so you can leave your bike with confidence until your return.

    YRT is going to be working their way through the entire system across the Region to upgrade all the YRT stops, with the Highway 7 rapidway sections being the first to change over to the new curb-side YRT amenities this summer. With the rapidways on the way and YRT shelters being refreshed, York Region will have a refurbished look and feel that highlights its commitment to serving residents.

    These upgrades will bring a new level of comfort to YRT riders, and show the commitment YRT\Viva has to providing all its riders with a great customer experience, no matter what route they’re taking. We encourage you to come visit the area!

    Remember, where rapidways are in service, you now board Viva from the centre median, but continue to get on YRT at the curb-side shelters.

     

     

    using colour and shape to create welcoming pedestrian spaces

    August 22nd, 2014

    using colour and shape to create welcoming pedestrian spaces

    If you’ve walked along the new rapidway on Highway 7, you’ll have seen the vivaNext pavers we’ve installed on the boulevards. We know from the feedback we’ve received that people love the new look.

    Most sidewalks in York Region, like pretty much everywhere else, are made of concrete, and the most important consideration is functionality: they need to be safe, accessible, durable and easy to maintain. But beyond those goals, we also want our new boulevards – which are wider than the Region’s regular sidewalks – to reinforce the “complete street” concept – the guiding philosophy for our vivaNext streetscape design. With all the development coming to the Region’s centres and corridors, in the future there will be more pedestrians, whether they live, work, or commute along our rapidway routes. So we’ve made sure that our boulevard design is going to be visually appealing as well as functional.

    The boulevard is made up of the pedestrian zone and the furnishing zone. The pedestrian zone is typically a 2m-wide sidewalk which is fully paved with light-toned coloured pavers near intersections, and paved with concrete in the mid-block areas. The sidewalk is a continuous system even across driveways to alert motorists that pedestrians have priority.

    The furnishing zone is located next to the pedestrian zone. The furnishing zone is an area where pedestrian amenities and planters are located. It is paved in light coloured unit pavers which reinforce the identity of the vivaNext system.

    We’re using a combination of coloured pavers which not only look great but also add to wayfinding for pedestrians. The main field pavers are a light-coloured cool gray with contrasting coloured accent bands, which will increase in frequency as pedestrians approach the main intersections. The east-west accent bands are a red; the north-south accent bands are a dark charcoal gray.

    Immediately adjacent to the roadway and running along beside the pedestrian zone is a 610mm-wide “transition zone,” which provides an important comfort buffer from bicycle and vehicular traffic. In the winter months, it also provides an area for snow storage and protects the plantings nearby from salt spray. This zone will be paved in special “eco-pavers,” which allow water to seep through to the storm sewer system.

    A charcoal gray coloured textured warning strip will alert visually impaired pedestrians that they are approaching an intersection or driveway. At midblock where the pedestrian zone is paved in concrete, the warning strip will be grooved concrete. Both approaches will provide a tactile clue for visually impaired pedestrians of potential conflicts.

    We’ve given special attention to the boulevards near intersections to ensure they reinforce pedestrian priority and add to placemaking. These areas have been designed to function as urban plazas with unit paving and accent pavers. Soft landscaping will define the corners of the intersections and function as gateways to the adjacent areas.

     

    getting to where you want to go

    August 20th, 2014

    The continuation of dedicated rapidway along Highway 7 East – from Bayview to Town Centre Boulevard – has resulted in some important changes to the way drivers get to their destinations, and how the traffic signals work.  Some of these changes have already become familiar to drivers on the west leg of the rapidway and during the construction phase of the east end, but it’s worth going over them again -

      1.Watch for your signal. 

      There are several different signal phases now operating along Highway 7, and drivers need to be extra alert to pay attention.  The left turn arrow, transit arrow and through traffic signals all work together to keep traffic moving safely.  Pay careful attention to the signal for your lane and the movement you want to make. Watch for pedestrians in the middle if you are making left hand turns or U-turns.

      2. Left turns only during the left turn arrow.

      With the rapidway down the middle of the roadway, drivers cannot make left turns mid-block.  Left turns are only allowed from the left turn lane at intersections, on a dedicated left-turn green arrow.  White lines clearly show the left lane turn.  No left turns are allowed on the through green light phase, or the transit green arrow.  Special detectors in the pavement will help the light know how many cars are waiting to turn left, but depending on the length of the queue you may need to wait more than one cycle to make your turn.  If there are no cars detected at a specific time, there will not be a left-turn arrow in that cycle.

      3. U-turns are allowed during the left turn arrow.

      If you want to get to a destination on the other side of the road, you can make a u-turn at the intersection when the left turn arrow is lit.  It is important to make sure you turn into the main traffic lanes going in the other direction rather than into the rapidway.  To make it obvious, rapidways are tinted red and have special bus-only markings on them.  U-turns, like left-turns, cannot be made on a through green light, or when the transit arrow is green.

      4. Transit green arrows are for buses only.

      The vehicles using the rapidway have their own signal, which is located directly in front of the rapidway.  This signal is only for buses, and depending on the circumstances, it may or may not coincide with the through green light for traffic.   The transit signal has a special hood over it so it can only be seen by transit drivers.  But whether or not a transit vehicle begins to move through an intersection, other drivers must wait for their own green light before proceeding.

      5. Be careful making right turns, watch for signs.

      There some changes to right turns on Highway 7 from side-streets.  At some intersections, right turns are no longer allowed; drivers need to watch carefully for signage on the traffic lights.  Drivers turning right need to be especially alert watching for bikes using the new bike lanes and bike boxes, and when making right turns past YRT buses stopped at curb-side stops.

    Highway 7 is a busy street and safety for everyone using it is a top priority.  All these changes work together to get everyone where they want to go safely and in good time.   Stay tuned for the new section opening this August!

    safety first!

    August 18th, 2014

    Taking steps to ensure our passengers feel secure and safe using the new Viva stations is a top priority for YRT/Viva.  Every detail of our new passenger stations on the Highway 7 rapidway has been designed with a view to make riders feel comfortable, well protected from the elements and adjacent traffic, as well as able to access help in an emergency.

    With our median platforms located in the middle of a busy roadway, one of our top priorities has been to make the stations feel like a safe haven.  Stations will provide a secure waiting place for passengers with a concrete barrier wall running all along the traffic side, and a glass guardrail beyond the canopy.

    To access the new stations in the median, pedestrians must use the crosswalks and cross with the signal.  When crossing the road to or from the new station, you must remember to push your pedestrian button to get the signal indicating when you can cross safely.  Also, because this is new for everyone, it is important that pedestrians watch for traffic before stepping out to cross the road – there could be cars making left-hand and u-turns.  Whenever there are changes, it is important to be aware of all the users to the roadway to ensure your safety at all times.

    The new Viva stations reflect the CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) principles of transparency and good lighting, enabling people to see and be seen. We’ve paid careful attention to lighting levels, including along the platform and in the glass enclosure, which is fully visible to the platform and has doors at either end.

    Each platform is well equipped with electronic security devices, overseen 24/7 by YRT/Viva staff at transit headquarters.  Stations are monitored constantly by three CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) cameras.  In addition to providing good coverage of the platform at all times, transit staff can maneuver the cameras manually as needed.

    To add to passenger’s sense of security, a clearly marked Emergency Call Button (ECB) is located inside the glass enclosure, and its speaker provides immediate two-way contact between the caller and YRT operators.  The audio of the call is recorded and time-stamped, as is the video that is automatically captured by the closest camera when the button is pushed. When the ECB is pushed, blue strobe lights on the VMS and on the ECB will be triggered to indicate to passing emergency services that assistance is needed, and transit staff will dispatch emergency services if required.

    Also adding to these new features is the PA system that will be used to provide live and recorded public announcements from transit operations, which we talked about in a previous blog.

    These new features are probably things that most people will never need to think about.  All the same, knowing that we’ve gone to great lengths to maximize our passengers’ sense of safety, and that our transit staff are on duty 24/7 behind the cameras, should give all our riders total peace of mind.  Be safe!